Colombia 2022 Presidential Elections- The Battle has Begun
With only a few months to go before the presidential elections in Colombia, the political atmosphere is beginning to heat up. It is taken for granted that most of the current candidates will not make it to the final stretch. Politics is a game of alliances; coldly calculated to seek to improve each one’s chances. Never before has the fight for the Casa Nariño (the icon of political power in Colombia) unleashed so many emotions. The debate essentially speaks of two very different ideologies and models: the right and the left. This translates into either continuing on the country’s clearly right-wing path or initiating a shift to the populist left.
The year 2022 began with internal measurements in the movements that aspire to appear in the polls. The month of March is key, since members of Congress will be elected and alliances will be fine-tuned. Then, May and June will be the final battles of the candidates who manage to advance in the race.
Part of the reason there is so much interest in this year’s Presidential Election is because a left-wing socialist (and former guerilla fighter) is leading the polls. We are at a historic moment, in which the figure of Gustavo Petro is gaining prominence and fears at the same time, since he promises to start a real revolution in Colombia if elected. The country is counting down and the first round will be held of Sunday, May 29, 2022.
In this article, we will talk about the beginning of the contest, with interesting facts about several leftist governments in Latin America. Then we will learn about the legacy of former president Alvaro Uribe Velez. This article will culminate with an analysis of the results of the administration of current Casa Nariño occupant Iván Duque as well as a look at whether Colombia could ever turn into a true socialist or communist region the likes of Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela.
Today Colombia is a Rich and Unequal Nation
Currently, the country has begun a process of economic recovery, with surprising record growth figures in 2021 following a severe crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. During 2020, GDP plummeted by 6.8%. Poverty levels reached record highs of 42.5% and unemployment levels of 15.8%. These figures and the intention of the Government of Iván Duque to carry out a controversial yet arguably necessary Tax Reform, which would have reduced the fiscal deficit of 8.2%, were the trigger for angry citizen protests and violence in the first part of 2021.
Since its foundation, Colombia has been a country with a strong social inequality – only surpassed by giant Brazil in South America. In summary, less than 10% of the population controls the income of 50.8 million inhabitants. According to a World Bank report, education and work opportunities in Colombia do not reach everyone equally in this country. For its part, the Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica (DANE) shows that more than 21 million people live in poverty.
Thus, the upper social strata have always dominated national life, not only in economics, but in politics as well. For many it is inexplicable how a country so immensely rich in natural resources and with potential for growth today has 15.1% of people living in extreme poverty. That is, people earning less than 2 USD per day – equivalent to more than 7.5 million inhabitants. However, in remote regions such as La Guaira and El Choco, extreme poverty is usually much higher than the country’s average.
Despite those figures, the country has grown steadily and achieved surprising levels of peace and prosperity in recent years – particularly following the agreements signed in 2016 with the main leftist guerrillas. However, there is a huge social debt unless a real miracle happens. In Colombia it will now take 11 generations, or 330 years, to lift millions of Colombians out of extreme poverty.
Colombia - A Nation with a Bloody Political History
On April 9, 1948, socialist political leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was assassinated in the city of Bogotá at the age of 50. A brilliant lawyer, former congressman and former mayor of Bogota, he had won the internal elections of the Liberal Party. At that time he was emerging as the favorite candidate to win the presidential elections scheduled for 1950.
Some believe that his assassination was carried out to prevent communist socialism from coming to power in Colombia in the context of the Cold War. Thus, they point out that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States tried to bribe Gaitan to abandon the political struggle and go into exile. When they failed, it is alleged that they hired a mercenary to assassinate him. Gaitán had a discourse against the traditional oligarchy. He managed to become the leader of the liberal party in a natural way and snatched its banners from the bourgeoisie. He promised to promote major social reforms in Colombia.
The alleged perpetrator of the crime, Juan Roa Sierra, was arrested by an angry crowd in the center of Bogotá and lynched minutes later. The death of Gaitán generated strong popular revolts in Bogota and several cities of the country, with more than 3,000 deaths and incalculable damages to the physical and commercial infrastructure of the city.
Gaitán Divided Colombia's History Into Before and After
The death of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, like that of Simon Bolivar in 1830, divided the history of Colombia into before and after. It served as a trigger for the guerrilla struggles that dominated the political environment for more than sixty years.
While Gaitán was the first great Colombian politician to be mysteriously assassinated in the 20th century, he would not be the last. Some other assassinated political leaders and presidential candidates have been: Jaime Pardo Leal (1987), Luis Carlos Galán (1989), Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa (1990), Carlos Pizarro León Gómez (1990) and Álvaro Gómez Hurtado (1995). The 20th Century was a violent one in Colombia politics. The armed conflict generated more than 300,000 deaths and decades of suffering for millions of Colombians.
Latin America has had several socialist governments throughout its recent history. Therefore, it has always co-governed with the right in many countries, in short, and in some cases long periods of time. This is a fact that is partly justified by the deep inequalities that still exist today in these countries. Widespread corruption and the erosion of traditional parties are the fuel that feeds the political struggle between two antagonistic models.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a new era of the triumph of the left seems to be prevailing. Let’s look at some interesting cases to understand what is currently happening in the region.
Cuba: They began the revolutionary path on January 1, 1959, with Fidel Castro and the mythical Che Guevara with a group of followers, overthrowing the dictator Fulgencio Batista. In a short time, he nationalized the country’s industries, imprisoned opposition leaders, and broke off relations with the United States.
The island is a communist bastion which has resisted the U.S. government’s trade sanctions for more than 60 years. Millions of Cubans have left the island fleeing the socialist regime during this time. Before his death, Fidel Castro left power to his brother Raul, who in turn left it to his loyal follower Manuel Diaz Canel.
Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution have inspired subversive movements in several countries in South America and the Caribbean, awakening anti-american sentiments around the world.
Nicaragua: El Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) fought to dethrone the Somoza family, which had ruled the country for more than 30 years. Finally, in 1979 the Sandinistas came to power with military support from the Cuban government. They lost in the 1990 elections. In 2007 Daniel Ortega won the elections and since then he has been president in an interrupted way, in successive elections questioned by the international community.
Argentina: Peronism is a moderate political socialist political current, Which has legitimately governed this country on ten occasions. Most recently Cristina Fernández 2007-2015 and Alberto Fernández, since 2019.
Brazil: The Workers’ Party governed the country from 2003 to 2016, first with Luis Ignacio Lula Da Silva and then with Dilma Rousseff when she was impeached by Congress. In 2022 Lula is the great favorite again to win the next elections in the South American giant.
Mexico: Manuel López Obrador dethroned the traditional parties in 2018 and initiates a populist era in that country.
Bolivia: the left in 2020 has returned to power with Luis Arce. After the overthrow of Evo Morales in 2019, which ruled for 13 years the country.
Ecuador had the citizen revolution with Rafael Correa, for 10 years. Today he is a fugitive from justice in his country. He is accused of several acts of corruption in his government. However, even today he is an influential opposition leader.
Perú – Pedro Castillo won power in the second round in June 2021 after a close and bitterly contested election.
Also in 2022, the left will return to power in Chile with Gabriel Boric. After the bloody coup d’état against Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, and a right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
In Honduras, the left is back in power after 12 years after winning the elections in December 2021 with Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of Manuel Zelaya who was deposed in 2009 after unsuccessfully trying to modify the country’s constitution.
In Venezuela, Chavismo came to power in 1999. and has remained in power with Nicolas Maduro. During the Maduro regime, millions of Venezuelans have fled their country. The country has experienced a major uptick in crime and hyperinflation.
Uribe's Legacy Generates Intense Passions in Colombia
Turning to Colombia, there is one figure who looms large about any national discussion of politics – former President Alvaro Uribe. He is undoubtedly a skilled politician but an extremely polarizing figure as well. Current President Ivan Duque was Uribe’s hand-picked successor – Duque was elected president only due to Uribe’s support. Therefore, his political influence in the upcoming electoral contest cannot be underestimated.
The fact is that Álvaro Uribe always generates conflicting passions and divides the country into antagonistic camps. For some, Uribe is the Great Colombian of this century.
Thus Uribe represents for his loyal followers a Savior of the Republic. He was very successful in defeating guerrillas and drug trafficking during his two presidential terms. His plan was called The Democratic Security Policy and from 2002-2010 brought an era of unprecedented economic growth and investment for the country and improved citizen security in general. The guerrillas would later manage to sign peace in the government of Juan Manuel Santos – a former friend of Uribe’s and now a major adversary – the 2016 peace accords that ended more than 50 years of armed struggle in Colombia. Uribe was highly critical of the deal and was a vocal opponent of it at the time.
For his detractors, Uribe’s government was a farce in which many cases of corruption and systematic violation of human rights of thousands of people were perpetrated with the famous case of extrajudicial executions or ‘falsos positivos‘.
Uribe is being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office in more than 70 judicial processes. For his supporters, this is clearly political persecution by his enemies, while for his detractors, justice is being sought. What we are sure of is that Álvaro Uribe will continue to be the talk of Colombian politics for a long time to come.
Government Management of Iván Duque
On June 17, 2018, lawyer Iván Duque Márquez, was elected as the 41st president of the Republic of Colombia for the period 2018-2022, by capturing 54% of the vote and a resounding 12% point victory over Gustavo Petro.
Duque came to power with the support of his party Centro Democrático and an alliance of broad sectors of the center and right. He represented the return of the so-called Uribismo to power. His election represented the hope of an important generational change in Colombian politics.
Duque has faced enormous difficulties on several fronts. A little more than a year into his administration, citizen protests occurred in November 2019-January 2020. Part of the protests were spurred on by the various acts of corruption involving political leaders in relation to the Brazilian company Odebrecht. Additionally, people were upset about the murder of social leaders at the hands of paramilitary groups.
Subsequently, in March 2020, the first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic arrived to Colombia. As a result, Colombia had to close its borders and establish strict controls for citizen mobility for almost the entire year. This raised the levels of unemployment and poverty to figures rarely seen in the country. In South American, Colombia was one of the hardest hit countries, with more than 5.1 million infections and over 129,000 deaths.
In 2021 a failed Tax Reform rocked his government and had to be withdrawn soon after, which generated a new wave of protests. During these days there were clashes with police and demonstrators. More than 70 people were killed during the protests of 2021, as well as over 2,900 injured and millions of dollars in property damage. The hardest hit cities were Cali and Bogota.
Duque Popularity: Near Historic Lows
All these major challenges have had an impact on the popularity of President Duque. This has been and will continue to be exploited by the left to take political advantage, in view of the 2022 presidential elections.
Indeed some of the opposition leaders supported the protests against Duque. Later, when things got out of control, they angrily denounced the situation. Although it is evident that the public forces committed serious excesses in the control of the riots. In some cities, the generalized violence and vandalism of the demonstrators generated greater repression by the police. In the end, this generated a climate of greater rejection of the government.
Many argue that the proposed tax reform was necessary to keep the country’s economy afloat following the worst part of the pandemic. However, the government underestimated the strength of the sectors mobilized against the tax reform and thus quickly squandered its scarce political capital to deal with the issue. In the end, it was a political miscalculation which has cost Duque the ability to reach the end of his mandate successfully. What is certain is that nobody wants to be in Iván Duque’s shoes these days.
Iván Duque and The Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela
Another problem Duque has faced is the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In February 2021 President Ivan Duque signed a Temporary Protection Statute (EPT) that would benefit the Venezuelan diaspora in Colombia. This is estimated at 1.4 million people. This law will grant legal residency and opportunities for this community.
Iván Duque has actively supported Venezuelan opposition leaders such as Juan Guaido, with the aim of achieving the overthrow of the Venezuelan leader Maduro. Since 2019, there have been no diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela. The socialist regime in place since 1999 has always been hostile to neighboring Colombia. Colombia and Venezuela share much more than an extensive border of more than 2,341 square kilometers – they share a common history as well, having once been part of a larger region called Gran Colombia. Therefore, to understand what will be at stake in these presidential elections in Colombia, it will be necessary to address a little of the common history of both countries.
The economic and social ties between Colombia and Venezuela are undeniable even today. Venezuela was for many years an oil-rich nation and a refuge for millions of Colombians. For more than thirty years, Colombians arrived in Venezuela during the time of violence. At one point it was estimated that more than 40% of the Venezuelan population was of Colombian origin. In that golden age, trade exchange was the highest in the region. For many years, Venezuela was Colombia’s first trading partner and friend. Today the situation is very different on both sides of the border.
Colombia shares a common history with Venezuela. The brotherhood of both nations has its origin in the struggle for independence against the Spanish empire, with Simón Bolívar El Libertador. He led an epic armed struggle to liberate the territories of present-day Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, Panamá, and Venezuela.
Simón Bolívar had a dream of creating a great nation with the territories taken from Spain. Thus, in 1819 he created what is known in history as Gran Colombia, formed by Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá, and Venezuela. But internal struggles between the main liberating leaders and the death of Bolivar on December 17, 1830, caused the definitive separation of Venezuela and Ecuador in 1831.
Bolivar’s vision was to have a strong central government and a presidency for life, in addition to continuing the wars of independence. He wanted to conquer more territories for the nascent Republic of Colombia – as this would allow him to crystallize his project of Latin American union.
However, his vice president, Francisco de Paula Santander, had a federalist vision envisioning a greater balance of powers. Santander was clearly concerned about the country’s financial situation. Colombia had been left bankrupt after Bolivar’s liberation campaigns. Bolivar constantly demanded that Santander send money to support his military adventures. It is clear that Bolivar was a military leader, who planned to continue the wars of independence in new territories.
Santander, on the other hand, had already left his military uniform years ago and was concentrating on governing such a complex country. At that time, the Bogotá oligarchy managed to seduce him with the idea that the country had enough and that he should concentrate on the internal problems facing the young nation.
Due to these deep differences, Bolivar assumed special powers and removed Santander from the Vice Presidency of the Republic. Santander’s followers in retaliation attempted to assassinate the Liberator in the Presidential Palace on September 25, 1828. The conspiracy failed thanks to the help of Manuela Sáez, Bolivar’s lover. Santander and his followers were accused of treason and condemned to death. But Simon Bolivar decided to pardon his former friend and spare him from death – but he did send him into exile.
In 1830, during his final days, Bolivar privately exclaimed: “Not having settled with Santander has harmed us all”. …. Even before his death he said in his political testament “Colombians, my last vows are for the happiness of the country. If my death contributes to the cessation of parties and the consolidation of the union, I will go down to the grave with peace of mind”. After the death of Simón Bolívar. Santander returned to Colombia and became the new president of the Republic.
With this backdrop, the first political parties were born in Colombia: The Conservative party, similar to Bolivar’s model, and the Liberal party, more in the style of Santander. These first political parties have evolved over time and new parties have been born as a result of their internal splits. The confrontation of both models of the country has been present in all great political struggles throughout the country’s history. Sometimes the struggles have been peaceful, but often they devolve into bloody battles.
Venezuela's Recovery is an Opportunity for Colombia
The closure of the borders and severing of diplomatic relations between the two countries occurred in 2019. It has come at a very high price for both nations and has artificially separated two countries that, being so different, preserve at the same time strong ties. Thus, thousands of families have suffered from the tense relationship between Duque and Maduro. In recent years, bi-national trade has decreased to levels never seen before. Thus, it is expected that whatever happens, with the arrival of a new government in the Casa de Nariño in 2022, a new stage of relations between the two countries will begin. It remains to be seen whether respect and collaboration prevail over political ideologies.
Everyone knows that if there is a political change and economic recovery in Venezuela, Colombia will be key in the enormous task of reconstruction of that country and Venezuela would be again the most important natural economic partner of Colombia.
On the other hand, the socialist left has always dreamed of becoming a political force in Colombia and imposing a Hugo Chavez-style Revolution. Paradoxically, this would fulfill an old dream of the Liberator Simón Bolívar, of a great alliance between both republics. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Today it appears as a specter again in the Colombian political scene. Precisely with Gustavo Petro, as the favorite in the polls for the presidential elections to be held in Colombia in 2022.
The coming months will determine the direction that this great nation will take – and for now – as of March 2022 – the battle has begun.
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